Risk assessments are essential health and safety procedures that allow you to mitigate risk in the workplace. They do not have to be overly-complex; thoroughness is more important to ensure you don’t miss out on any dangerous risks that could cause serious injury to your employee.

What is a risk assessment?

Risk assessments help you identify the most serious risks to health and safety in your workplaces and take steps to mitigate this risk. You are not expected to eliminate risk entirely but are expected to be aware of potential hazards and take proactive action to protect your employees. Legally speaking you must protect your employees as far as is ‘reasonably practicable.’ Organisations working in specific industries will need to undertake more complex risk assessments due to the inherent danger; contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) if you are unsure.

Identify risks and hazards

Consider all areas of your workplace and write down any areas that have the potential to cause harm to your employees or other third parties. Get opinions from employees and stakeholders that may have spotted something you haven’t; it’s always best to get as many people involved as possible to increase the chances of covering all bases. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides advice on the most common hazards, such as slippery floors. Trade associations can also give you industry-specific advice which can be invaluable. Think short-term and long-term; exposure to chemicals can have adverse effects that may not be immediately apparently. Products and equipment can also be classed as hazards. You may wish to contact manufacturers for more information.

Who is likely to be harmed?

Identifying who is most likely to be harmed will help you take proactive measures to mitigate risk. Don’t list people by name but class them into groups depending on role and how often they visit specific areas. For example, floor cleaning chemicals are more likely to harm cleaners than sales staff. Remember to include all groups that come into contact with your workplace, including clients, the public and contractors. Some groups will be more innately at risk of harm than others, such as pregnant women and people with disabilities. Once you’ve identified who is most at risk from individual hazards, identify the most likely ways in which they could be hurt. This will help you discover which hazards have the most potential to cause serious injury.

Evaluate risks and review precaution options

The next step is to consider the seriousness of the risks you’ve identified and decide if precautions should be taken. Legally you must do what is ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect your staff; you may find it hard to define this term, so it’s best to look at industry standards for health and safety procedures and use these as a guideline.

1. Can I eliminate this risk completely?
2. If not, how can I mitigate risk?
  • Use an inherently less risky option (e.g. storing boxes at a lower level)
  • Limit access to hazardous areas (e.g. using high-visibility tape or access passes)
  • Distribute protective equipment (e.g. steel-toed boots and hard hats)
  • Increase awareness (e.g. provide in-depth health and safety training)
Request feedback from staff on potential implementations; they may eliminate some risk but cause more in a way you’ve missed.

Record findings and take precautions

Create a document outlining the findings of your risk assessment, any objectives you’d like to work towards and precautions that you’ll be implementing. This is not a legal requirement if you have fewer than five employees but can be useful for comparison at a later date. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides a template (Word document, 110kb) to help you standardise formatting. With regard to precautions, you’ll probably have a combination of more costly and less costly objectives. Make an action plan for the next two years and take regular steps to meet your objectives, implementing less costly ‘quick fixes’ alongside longer-term projects. You don’t always have to spend a lot of money. Proactive steps to improve health and safety will always be valued by inspectors.

Regularly review your risk assessment

Workplaces change rapidly and you may find your risk assessment soon becomes outdated. New hazards arise whilst old ones may be eliminated entirely. You should therefore review your risk assessment regularly – at least once a year – and update it to reflect important changes. If you notice a significant risk, don’t wait until your next review date. Take steps to remedy the problem immediately and then modify your risk assessment. Don’t forget to involve staff in the process; train them to regularly analyse the workplace for risks and report back to you if one is found.